With Their Backs to the Mountains

A History of Carpathian Rus’ and Carpatho-Rusyns
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Publication date: 
550 pages

This is a history of a stateless people, the Carpatho-Rusyns, and their historic homeland, Carpathian Rus’, located in the heart of central Europe. A little over 100,000 Carpatho-Rusyns are registered in official censuses but their population is estimated at around 1,000,000, the greater part in Ukraine and Slovakia. The majority of the diaspora—nearly 600,000—lives in the US.

At the present, when it is fashionable to speak of nationalities as “imagined communities” created by intellectuals or elites who may live in the historic homeland, Carpatho-Rusyns provide an ideal example of a people made—or some would say still being made—before our very eyes. The book traces the evolution of Carpathian Rus’ from earliest prehistoric times to the present, and the complex manner in which a distinct Carpatho-Rusyn people, since the mid-nineteenth century, came into being, disappeared, and then re-appeared in the wake of the revolutions of 1989 and the collapse of communist rule in central and eastern Europe.

To help guide the reader further there are 34 detailed maps plus an annotated discussion of relevant books, chapters, and journal articles.

List of Maps
List of Tables 
1. Carpatho-Rusyns and the land of Carpathian Rus’
Human geography
No shortage of names
Physical geography
A borderland of borders

2. Carpathian Rus’ in prehistoric times
Earliest human settlements
The Iron Age and the Celts
Early peoples in Carpathian Rus’
The Roman Empire and the Dacians

3. The Slavs and their arrival in the Carpathians
The Huns and the displacement of peoples
The origin-of-peoples fetish
Is DNA the reliable way?
The Slavs and Carpathian Rus’
Dwellings of the early Slavs
The White Croats and the Avars

4. State formation in central Europe
The Pax Romana and the Byzantine Empire
Greater Moravia
Saints Constantine/Cyril and Methodius
Christianity becomes “our” religion
Who among the East Slavs first received Christianity?
The Magyars and Hungary
Historical memory and political reality
The rise of Poland
Kievan Rus’
The Great Debate: the origin of Rus’

5. Carpathian Rus’ until the early 16th century
The formation of the Hungarian Kingdom
A medieval Carpatho-Rusyn state: fact or fiction?
The Mongol invasion and the restructuring of Hungary
The Vlach colonization
Kings, nobles, and the implementation of serfdom
Poland: administrative and socioeconomic structure
The fall of Constantinople and the decline of Orthodoxy

6. The Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and Carpathian Rus’ 
The Ottoman Empire in central Europe
The Protestant Reformation
The Catholic Counter -Reformation
Poland and church union
Transylvania and church union in Hungary
The Union of Uzhhorod
Uniates/Greek Catholics: A new church or a return to the old?

7. The Habsburg restoration in Carpathian Rus’
Rákóczi’s “War of Liberation”
Habsburg Austria’s transformation of Carpathian Rus’
The Bachka-Srem Vojvodinian Rusyns
Poland and Galicia’s Lemko Region

8. Habsburg reforms and their impact on Carpatho-Rusyns
The reforms of Maria Theresa and Joseph II
Uniate/Greek Catholics and the Enlightenment in Carpathian Rus’
Carpatho-Rusyns become an historical people

9. The Revolution of 1848 and the Carpatho-Rusyn national awakening
The multicultural Austrian Empire
Kakania’s emperors and kings
What is nationalism and what are national movements?
Nationalism in Hungary
From inferiority to superiority: the transformation of a dangerous complex
Revolution in the Austrian lands and Hungary
The Carpatho-Rusyn national awakening: politics
The first Carpatho-Rusyn political program
The Carpatho-Rusyn national awakening: culture
Did Carpatho-Rusyns really love the Russians?

10. Carpathian Rus’ in Austria-Hungary, 1868–1914
The Dual Monarchy and Austrian parliamentarism
In search of a Rus’ national identity
The national awakening in the Lemko Region
Hungary and its magyarization policies
Magyarization despite the letter of the law
Carpatho-Rusyns in Hungarian politics
Carpatho-Rusyns and national survival
Socioeconomic developments
Was life in pre-World War I Carpathian Rus’ so destitute?

11. Carpatho-Rusyn diasporas before World War I
Migration to the Srem, Banat, and Bachka
Emigration abroad to the United States
Rusyn-American religious and secular organizations
Rejected Greek Catholics and the “return” to Orthodoxy
“You are not a proper priest”
“Ruthenians” become Uhro (Hungarian)-Rusyns, or Russians, or Ukrainians
Rusyn Americans and international politics

12. Carpathian Rus’ during World War I, 1914–1918
The end of civilized Europe
World War I in Carpathian Rus’
The war against Carpatho-Rusyn civilians
Magyarization reaches its peak

13. The end of the old and the birth of a new order, 1918–1919 
National self-determination and socialist revolution
Rusyn Americans mobilize politically
Political mobilization in the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland
Hungary’s autonomous Rus’ Land
The Ukrainian option
The meaning of Ukraine
Carpatho-Rusyns on the international stage

14. Subcarpathian Rus’ in interwar Czechoslovakia, 1919–1938
Czechoslovakia and “Rusyns south of the Carpathians”
Borders and the autonomy question
Carpatho-Rusyn national anthems
Hungarian irredentism
Political life
Socioeconomic developments
Subcarpathian Rus’: Czechoslovakia’s architectural tabula rasa
Education and culture
Churches and the religious question
Orthodoxy: the jurisdictional problem
The nationality and language questions
The language question

15. The Prešov Region in interwar Slovakia, 1919–1938
Borders, schools, and censuses
The problem of statistics
Carpatho-Rusyns and Slovaks
Socioeconomic developments
The religious question
The nationality question and cultural developments

16. The Lemko Region in interwar Poland, 1919–1938
Poland, its Ukrainian problem, and the Lemko Region
Socioeconomic status of the Lemko Rusyns
Religious and civic activity
The Lemko-Rusyn national awakening

17. Carpatho-Rusyn diasporas during the interwar years, 1919–1938
Romania and Hungary
Yugoslavia—the Vojvodina
The United States
Marriage and property: two sticking points

18. Other peoples in Subcarpathian Rus’
Relations between Jews and Carpatho-Rusyns
Romanians, Slovaks, and Roma/Gypsies
Russians, Ukrainians, and Czechs

19. Autonomous Subcarpathian Rus’ and Carpatho-Ukraine, 1938–1939 
The struggle for autonomy during the interwar years
Nazi Germany and the Munich Pact
Autonomous Subcarpathian Rus’
From Subcarpathian Rus’ to Carpatho-Ukraine
Alternatives to the Ukrainian national orientation
Carpatho-Ukraine’s road to “independence”

20. Carpathian Rus’ during World War II, 1939–1944
Nazi Germany’s New Order in Europe
The Lemko Region in Nazi Germany
Carpatho-Rusyns in the Slovak state
Subcarpathian Rus’ in Hungary
The apogee of the Rusyn national orientation
Opposition to Hungarian rule

21. Carpathian Rus’ in transition, 1944–1945
The Soviet Army and Ukrainian nationalist partisans
Rusyn/Lemko Americans and the war in Europe
The Soviet “liberation” of Subcarpathian Rus’
Transcarpathian Ukraine and “reunification”
The act of reunification
Czechoslovakia acquiesces to Soviet hegemony
Why did Czechoslovakia give up Subcarpathian Rus’?
The new Poland and the deportation of the Lemkos: Phase one

22. Subcarpathian Rus’/Transcarpathia in the Soviet Union, 1945–1991
Subcarpathian Rus’ becomes Soviet Transcarpathia
The Soviet socio-political model
Totalitarian time
Forced collectivization and industrialization
Transcarpathia’s new peoples
Revising the past and reckoning with “enemies of the people”
How Carpatho-Rusyns were declared Ukrainians
Destruction of the Greek Catholic Church
Transcarpathia’s new Soviet society
Love of the East

23. The Prešov Region in postwar and Communist Czechoslovakia, 1945–1989
Postwar politics: the Ukrainian National Council
Population transfers and the UPA
Communist Czechoslovakia according to the Soviet model
Carpatho-Rusyns are ukrainianized
The Prague Spring and the rebirth of Carpatho-Rusyns
Soviet-style political consolidation and reukrainianization
Socioeconomic achievements and national assimilation

24. The Lemko Region and Lemko Rusyns in Communist Poland, 1945–1989
Poland reconstituted and reconstructed
The deportation of the Lemkos: Phase two
Greek Catholic and Orthodox Lemkos
Lemkos as Ukrainians
Lemko fear and anxiety

25. Carpatho-Rusyn diasporas old and new, 1945–1989
Soviet Ukraine (Galicia and Volhynia)
Czechoslovakia (Bohemia and Moravia)
Romania (the Banat and Maramureş Regions)
Yugoslavia (Vojvodina and Srem)
The United States
We want to know who we are

26. The revolutions of 1989
Transformation and demise of the Soviet Union
The end of Communist rule in central Europe
Carpatho-Rusyns reassert their existence
One people despite international borders
Proclamation of the First World Congress of Rusyns
The autonomy question again

27. Post-Communist Transcarpathia—Ukraine
Unfulfilled political expectations
Ukraine’s “Rusyn question”
Carpatho-Rusyns in the international context
Socioeconomic realities
A failed or incomplete national movement?
Traditional religious and secular culture
Protestantism and Carpatho-Rusyns

28. The post-Communist Prešov Region and the Lemko Region—Slovakia and Poland
Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution
Censuses confirm nationalities
Independent Slovakia and the European Union
Prešov Region Carpatho-Rusyns reaffirm their existence
The Greek Catholic Church: a positive or negative force?
Nationality assertion and assimilation
Codification of a Rusyn literary language
Poland’s three Lemko-Rusyn communities
Lemko Rusyns or Lemko Ukrainians?
The Vatra: a symbol of national and political advocacy
The attraction of Polish assimilation

29. Other Carpatho-Rusyn communities in the wake of the revolutions of 1989
The Czech Republic
Yugoslavia—Serbia and Croatia
The United States

30. Carpathian Rus’—real or imagined?
Carpathian Rus’: a reality or an idea?
Carpathian Rus’ beyond Carpathian Rus’
Enemies as friends
A movement of women and young people
Education and national self-confidence

For further reading 
1. Reference works and general studies
2. Prehistoric times to the 16th century
3. The 17th and early 18th centuries
4. The reform era and Habsburg rule, 1770s to 1847
5. The Revolution of 1848 to the end of World War I
6. The interwar years, 1919–1938
7. International crises and World War II, 1938–1945
8. The Communist era, 1945–1989
9. The revolutions of 1989 and their aftermath
Illustration Sources and Credits

"This book is undoubtedly the work of a renowned scholar with impressive knowledge concerning the history and culture of the region. At the same time, this is also the work of an ardent advocate of a national cause (of the people inhabiting this region or having ancestral links to it). It is clear from the text that the author is well aware of the possibility of being accused of partisanship as potentially compromising the academic impartiality of his narrative. Still, Magocsi attempts to balance a critical scholarly approach (as embodied by constructivist methodology) with the primordialism of a national activist."
"Paul Robert Magocsi, Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, has been writing about Carpatho-Rusyns for almost half a century now and this book represents a condensation, if not culmination, of his scholarship on the subject. For historians of the so-called stateless nations, Magocsi’s main narrative will strike a familiar chord. He tells a story of people who have existed from the ancient times under foreign powers (Hungarian for the most part) but have been inhibited from developing fully due to the lack of self-rule and governmental policies against them. With Their Backs to the Mountains will certainly prove to be a valuable book for those interested in the Carpatho-Rusyn perspective on the history of these lands by the Carpathians and the question of ethnic/national identity of their indigenous Eastern Slavs."
"Die Monographie folgt einem klassischen chronologischen Aufbau und setzt nach einer Beschreibung des geographischen Raumes mit der Darstellung der vorgeschichtlichen Zeit und der ersten menschlichen Ansiedlungen in der Karpato-Rus’ ein. Indem dieser Aufbau an die klassische Geschichtsschreibung moderner Nationalstaaten erinnert, meldet er einen Anspruch an. Wie bei den Handbüchern von Magocsi üblich, wird der Text illustriert durch sorgfältig gestaltete, informative (und suggestive) Karten sowie Kästen, die Kontexte zur Geschichte der Karpato-Rus’ erörtern. Als einführende Gesamtdarstellung konzipiert, die Monographie umfasst über 40 Seiten eines chronologisch strukturierten, kommentierten bibliographischen Anhangs sowie ein gut verwendbares Register."
"The real value of With Their Backs to the Mountains is that it is a history of Carpatho-Rusyns that is not written from any state perspective, whether that of Budapest, Moscow, Kyiv, Prague, Warsaw, or Bratislava. It is not inappropriate to say that Magocsi’s history is written from the perspective of Carpatho-Rusyns, while at the time emphasizing that the book systematically analyzes historical events in an objective manner, a not unimportant characteristic of his research. Although a scholarly publication, the book has relevance in the context of present-day changes in Europe. The relevance factor applies to those states to whom the doors became open for membership in the European Union. Although not the sole reason (but nevertheless a reason) was the fact that all of those states recognized their Carpatho-Rusyn citizens to comprise a distinct ethnos. The book’s relevance factor also applies to other countries, first and foremost Ukraine, which is seeking a path to the... more
"Magocsi's book is an invaluable source of detailed information for those who are interested in a history of the Rusyns and their diaspora, for those who teach the history of East Central Europe it is also a useful textbook with helpful inserts that explain certain terms, events, and historiographical problems, and includes documents or illustrative explanations of other authors, finishing with a great bibliographic essay in the section 'for further reading'."
"Paul Robert Magocsi, a well-known author on Ukrainian History and a self-identified Rusyn, authored With Their Backs to the Mountains not only to fill a lacuna in knowledge among specialists and genealogical researchers, but also to advocate for the distinctiveness (and, indeed, existence) of an ethno-national group still struggling for recognition at home and abroad. The comprehensive book includes a wealth of illustrations, maps, and text capsules, which address thematic issues outside the immediate chronological narrative, and Magocsi’s text is certain to become the definitive reference guide to the Carpatho-Rusyns."